Advance Care Planning: making and respecting choices

Published 4:44 pm Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Winter is waning and early signs of spring are in the air.  April has been designated as Health Care Decisions Month, though it is wise to consider the changing landscape of health care now.   Polk Wellness Center, along with other local, national, state and community organizations, is highlighting the importance of Advance Care Planning—This year, there is the unique component of the Affordable Care Act.

Choosing medical treatments after a sudden trauma or after being diagnosed with a chronic or life threatening illness has changed dramatically over the past 20 years. Advances in medical technology have made health care choices more essential and complex than ever.

What is Advance Care Planning? The essential goal of advance care planning is to live well, in a way that is meaningful to you, for as long as you live.  Advance directives, better known as the health care power of attorney and the living will, are only part of the process.   Conversations with loved ones are essential in order to assure that in the event you are unable to make health care decisions, your wishes will be carried out.   There are four basic steps that provide guidance about how to consider choices and have conversations.

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Understand Choices – Consider the status of your health now, and anticipate changes that may occur in the future.   Consult with your health care provider about current and future treatment options.  Even a healthy person with no obvious health problems should consider who would make decisions in the event of a sudden trauma.  Persons with chronic illnesses need to consider potential options for future treatment.  This process is important for adults of all ages.  Consider that most high profile cases followed in the media have involved younger women whose families could not agree on medical decisions.

Consider the information and potential health care choices in the context of your personal values and beliefs. Consult with your doctor, spiritual or religious advisor, close family and friends.  These are personal decisions with no right or wrong choices. Most importantly, consider who in your family or circle of friends would be the best choice to step in if you are unable to make health care decisions.

Conversations with loved ones are a vital foundation for communicating decisions about health care.  It is especially important to talk with the person you have chosen as your Health Care Agent.  Starting the conversation may be difficult though these are issues that most people have thought about.  A life event, a movie, or even a newspaper article may offer a window of opportunity to begin the conversation.

Record your plan.  The Health Care Power of Attorney document legally appoints a representative to make medical decisions on your behalf if you are unable to.  The Living Will communicates directives to your physician; specifically related to life sustaining interventions.  Continue the process by reviewing your documents at least every few years, more frequently if the status of your health changes.

This process not only offers a guide to a complicated medical environment, it also brings the opportunity to strengthen relationships.

The Affordable Care Act:  2014 brings with it another essential health care choice; health insurance that fits your budget and needs.  March 31 is the deadline for enrolling in insurance plans through the Health Insurance Marketplace.  Subsidies based on income are available to assist with cost. Adults and children who are uninsured and do not qualify for Medicare or Medicaid are all encouraged to apply.  He official website; provides step by step instructions and information. A Certified Marketplace Navigator is available for individual assistance at Polk Wellness Center.

Advance care planning is a gift, to yourself and your family.


– article submitted by Laura Ellington, LCSW, Polk Wellness Center, providing integrated primary medical and mental health care to Polk County and surrounding areas. Most insurance plans accepted and sliding scale is available for uninsured residents. Call 828-894-2222 or visit our website for more information,